Race Relations: America At Cross Roads

An 18 by 24 inches poster of Martin Luther King Jr., MLK, making his last major speech in the Bay Area during a May 17, 1967, anti-Vietnam war rally at the University of California Berkeley, has followed me in my travels in the last one year to remind me of the sacrifices this civil rights icon made for the progress of race relations in America and worldwide.

This poster, which now adorns the wall of my mother’s home in Benin City, Nigeria, was also a constant reminder of the stature of MLK to others at my former work place in Vacaville, since it was conspicuously placed in my cubicle.

Sadly, it was at the same University of California Berkeley where MLK made that wonderful speech and where my cherished photograph of his was taken that now plays host to one of the most sordid reminder of how far backward the American society has been taken in terms of race relations.

I was really shocked when I read how three cardboard cutouts of black people were found hanging by nooses on December 13, at this great school that I also attended between 1998 and 2000.

According to the report, “the effigies appear to be connected to a demonstration nearby planned to coincide with a national protest against police brutality dubbed, “#blacklivesmatters.”

As I continued reading story, I had to do a double-take, wondering, Berkeley of all places? A city renowned in the late 60’s for a social movement of love, peace, equality and liberal activism that helped to change California and America?

I reasoned that if this could happen there, then something “Berzekeley” has to be going on with race-relations and the mindset in America, and perhaps in other places as well.

The unprovoked shooting by a white policeman of an 18-year-old African-American named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the riots and protest marches that have followed all across America since then shows that this is an entrenched problem that will not go away anytime soon.

Systemic abuse, falsehoods and racial discrimination were some of the reasons I quit a well-paying job and departed Vacaville last year; and I believe a second term for President Barrack Obama has stirred up a new kind of hatred for minorities by extremist groups that sometimes needs forensic detection.

In the clashes in Ferguson, one white Policeman was caught on video telling the black protesters: “Bring it. You f***ing animals, bring it.” Can you believe such a remark in the 21st century United States?

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, part of the problem is that the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Justice are funneling billions of dollars to state and local law enforcement agencies every year to help them purchase military weaponry and equipment.

So what business does the DOD, DHS, and DOJ have funding a war here at home?

More than 25 years ago, my final year thesis at the University of Calabar in Nigeria focused on how “The dehumanization engendered by South Africa’s racist policies and the oppressive policies of Afro-American slavery are two factors that paradoxically catalyzed the poetry of Dennis Brutus and Claude McKay.”

Since then, South Africa has witnessed a lot of progress transitioning from an Apartheid regime to an inclusive democracy that has produced its first black president in the late Nelson Mandela. America too has made great strides in race relations, especially with the election and re-election of its first black President.

But with the repetitive incidents of bigotry, especially the recent one at the liberal campus of my Alma Mater, the sad truth is that there is still a lot of work to be done on racial and ethnic injustice in America, and even in Nigeria where this dispatch was written, the morning after those effigies were found in what I now call, “Berzekely.”

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Ben Edokpayi

Ben Edokpayi is a strategic communications consultant with more than 25 years experience in the USA and Nigeria. His most recent corporate assignment was as Media Relations Officer with the California State Compensation Insurance Fund.

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